Abuse of Authority

California police are collecting cell phone data with no oversight

SACRAMENTO, CA–All over the Golden State, local law enforcement agencies have been spying on innocent civilians by using StingRay devices. These Orwellian electronic surveillance devices simulate cell towers, which collect data and can pinpoint our location even when we’re not making a call.

StingRay devices are procured by agencies through DHS grants, yet documents uncovered by the Freedom of Information Act reveal that that’s where oversight ends. As News10 reported, nine California law enforcement agencies have all been using StingRay devices, some as early as 2007. Our privacy isn’t even a factor in their current quest to collect data, yet their privacy is paramount, as evidenced by the air of secrecy surrounding the use of these devices.

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Purchase orders obtained by News10 reveal just how costly this equipment is. The San Jose Police Department “paid almost $500,000, using Bay Area UASI funds secured in 2011 and 2012. $250,000 from the 2011 went to the purchase of surveillance equipment. $250,000 from the 2012 grant funded a ‘surveillance system,’ a $42,000 surveillance vehicle and a $20,000 installation fee.”

When law enforcement agencies wish to purchase this type of expensive equipment they apply for federal funds, citing combating terrorism as the reason for their purchase. However, StingRays are being used to carry out regular law enforcement duties. Using federal grants allows these departments to dodge uncomfortable questions about this product’s use and price, and there’s no way to tell how much data devoid of criminal intent has been collected and stored by law enforcement.


Harris, the company that makes StingRays, has a non-disclosure agreement which states its “capabilities can only be discussed with sworn law enforcement officers, the military or federal government,” and “are not for public knowledge and are protected under non-disclosure agreements as well as Title 18 USC 2512.” This non-disclosure agreement has been used to keep evidence of StingRay usage out of the courtroom, as well as justification for not obtaining a proper search warrant.

The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department echoes Harris in their continued citation of the non-disclosure agreement. Currently, Harris has a monopoly on this type of technology thanks to the FCC, and are keeping the cost of these devices high. Not only are taxpayers buying this technology for the officers, they could eventually be extorted by it.

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